Metal to Infinity
A talk with Chuck Hopkins
May I welcome you all to a band formed back in 1985 somewhere in Kansas City USA – Banshee is the name, top-notch US Metal is the game! I’m an ardent admirer of the band’s style of music since their first EP called “Cry In The Night” (1986) and follow up “Race Against Time” (1989). Full album number three “Take ‘em By Storm” saw daylight four years later on and then, an almost unbearable silence fell over the existence of Banshee! But I got some excellent news to tell people… Banshee is back with a brand new album entitled “Mindslave” featuring new vocalist George Call (Aska/Omen). MTI co-editor Rico aka Officer Nice) just wrote the review for this masterpiece, now it’s my turn to ask original bass player Chuck Hopkins a bunch of questions.
Q: Hello Chuck, I welcome your presence on our homepage Metal To Infinity – thanks man for participating to this interview! What keeps you busy this Monday, the 17th. of September 2012?
A: Thank you. Banshee just finished the first part of their US tour which went to 20 states and just ended in Kansas City on Sept. 15 which we thought was the perfect way to end the tour…in the town where it all began.
Q: Your first EP was the self financed “Cry In The Night” EP featuring the song ‘We Want You’. Wonderful track that got a place on Metal Massacre Volume 9 compilation album through Metal Blade Records. Do we have a deal if I say that this was actually ultimate beginning of Banshee?
A: Yes. That was the Summer of 1986 and the beginning of Banshee.
In fact the lyrics in We Want You is about Tommy and I coming to Kansas City and leaving friends behind. When we moved to KC we lived in a record store warehouse which was converted into a rehearsal space with 2 bed rooms and a bathroom. It was the craziest place ever. That summer there were like 50 armed robberies up and down the street we lived. We lived there for months writing and rehearsing every night and when we had 4 or 5 songs written, we pooled our money together to record the songs which became Cry in the Night. It was an EP because that is all we could afford at the time.
Q: “Race Against Time” has been released through Atlantic Records – what’s the reason why this effort wasn’t released via Metal Blade Records?
A: Atlantic was a bigger, more prestigious label and it was Banshee’s decision to “go with the bigger guys”. Some would argue it was the right thing to do, others wouldn’t. Terry and I were in the latter category. Also, if you listen to the material on Race, it is different from Cry….two totally different sounding albums. Cry had a hard edged, raw feel and Race was a more commercial effort as dictated by Atlantic. I left the band right before Race and in retrospect, without any regret. Terry says he was never happy with the writing in Banshee after Cry in the Night. He and I both thought it was an over commercialized sound.
Q: Anno 2012, you and guitarist Terry Dunn are the only survivors of the original line up. What happened with the rest of the originals, why did they left the Banshee ranks?
A: Yes. At this point we are the original players. Life goes on, people move in different directions, they pursue other interests. I approached Kent (original drummer) about doing the Mindslave album but he declined for personal reasons. Tommy (original singer) had moved on to other projects.
Q: May I conclude that the maintenance of a fixed line-up always has been a problem in the camp of Banshee?
A: I don’t know that I would define it as a “problem”. Banshee has always had a few “original” members. The others come and go due to personal reasons, conflicting schedules, other interests etc. Terry has always been there so far but there have been different bass players, drummers, and now singers over the years. Anybody is expendable. You never know.
Q: Second full length album “Take 'em By Storm” appeared in 1993, still a good album but I did miss the overwhelming class of the two previous efforts. Are you agree with me? If you do, I’d like to ask for an explanation.
A: I agree that it lacked good production value. I was told they were basically live board mixes they needed to get out for some reason. I cannot speak for Take 'em by Storm as I was not there. If I were, it would have never been released in the way it was.
Q: Since late 1993, a deadly silence descended over the almighty Banshee existence. Many, many years passed by without anything to hear of the band. What is the only, real truth of the absence?
A: Everyone went their separate ways and did their own thing musically or non-musically. People ended up getting married, having kids or in our case, stayed kids. Others decided they wanted to squander life, do drugs and drink to excess…..the usual reasons. I saw Terry playing a gig in KC one night after not seeing him in over 15 years and we got to reminiscing about Banshee and if we were to make another album what direction it would take. We found that we both had very similar ideas and we agreed that we would have to find a top notch vocalist to live up to the level of our expectations. Things just snowballed from there.
Q: Completed unexpectedly, I got a message from a good and long time US Metal brother with the words regarding a brand new Banshee album appeared a while ago. New album featuring a new singer, more especially the one and only George Call! This joyful news to hit me like a bomb – first on, how did George came in touch with Banshee?
A: He really is the “one and only” isn’t he? We actually had another singer picked for the album but as time went on, we realized he was not the right guy and somebody said we had to check out this George guy from ASKA. I’d never even heard of ASKA but someone emailed me a clip from You Tube. I knew after 1 minute of listening to Long Ships (ASKA-Absolute Power) he was our guy. We contacted him and initially spent a lot of time talking on the phone.
Finally I flew him in to meet and hang and he turned out to be one of the best guys I have ever worked with. He has also become a very good personal friend who I would never question working with. He is very professional…..always delivers, has perfect pitch and great writing talent. Anyway, he liked our Banshee stuff---both old and the new Mindslave demos. When we first met I think we all felt like we were honored to be working with each other. As time went by it turned out we had great chemistry and he brought a lot to the table in the making of this album…including endless comedy. He’s one of the funniest guys I know. I can say that if we wouldn’t have found George the Banshee album might not have happened.
Q: What is the main reason you asked him to join forces as the new singer?
A: I believe he is one of the most underrated and undiscovered rock singers in the US today.
He is the real deal and has all the qualities we wanted. He can sing anything in any key, he could sing 10 nights in a row and deliver 100%, he doesn’t drink or do drugs. He’s like every great rock singer you ever heard all rolled into one guy….the total package. On Mindslave I hear influences from Gillian, Dio, Coverdale, Halford, Dickenson, Tate and others…..but he is original in his own way.
Q: Any idea why George left his former bands Aska and Omen?
A: George never left Aska. It is his band based out of Dallas and very much alive. He put Aska on hold to do the Banshee album and tour. I don’t know about Omen. He may tour with Aska while Banshee contemplates it’s direction for 2013.
Q: But more new blood showed up, in particular a new drummer named Marty Schiermann. What’s the story of this guy’s past experiences?
A: New blood doesn’t just show up…..we go out and get it. We get people who think like us and bring a certain level of talent to the table. Believe me, we went through a lot of drummers to find Marty. He is a very experienced drummer with lots of feel and great meter. We are from the same town but until Banshee we never met. I knew of him and of the local bands he played in i.e. Looker and Snakey Billy. He was actively playing when we recruited him.
He’s played thousands of gigs across the US and happened to be available for the Mindslave project when we needed him. Right place, right time. He is absolutely excellent…we only rehearsed with him for 3 days before we locked him in the studio. He also brought great input on his drum parts. He has a great groove and also a funny guy. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with him again. In fact, he will probably be on the next Banshee album.
Q: Terry Dunn and yourself still together as one – what makes the connectedness so strong?
A: We have a lot of the same views musically regarding Banshee and it’s direction. One reason is after all these years we agreed that after Cry in the Night, Banshee lost the direction it was going regarding writing. That is why we got together and did Mindslave.
We feel it picks up right where the first album left off….much heavier, more aggressive and very punchy…..as opposed to the “commercially processed” sound of Race. We defined in advance what we wanted this album to be, how it would sound and set out to achieve that. Everybody involved in the making of this album was on the same page….which was great. No pussies wanting to do love ballads or something.
Q: Okay, it’s time to talk about the brand new album “Mindslave” which sounds FANTASTIC all the way out! Congrats from the heart for such a great piece of US Metal! How did the album come into its own?
A: Terry had all the songs recorded as demos over the years so we got together and started arranging them into album oriented material. There were lots of great ideas that didn’t make it to the album. A lot of the parts were too long, too short or didn’t feel right so we worked on arrangement for weeks. We both felt good about the material and agreed that we needed a GREAT singer or the album wouldn’t work. We found George and let him hear the music and add his ideas and everything just went really smooth.
We all live hundreds of miles away from each other so they had to fly to my house and we all hung out, talked a lot about the material and began recording. Everybody got along great, had similar ideas and we were all on the same page as to the direction and feel of the album so the music just started coming together. I must say George is by far the most talented and professional singer I have ever worked with and we have become great friends.
Q: Lyrics mainly done by Terry Dunn and George Call - can you explain what the majority of the tracks lyrically mean?
A: You have to ask Terry & George about that. My role was to write bass tracks, arrange and produce the music so we could portray everyone’s sound and talent in the best light possible. After that, I run all the business on the back end.
Q: Ronnie James Dio must be someone very special to you – the song ‘Legend Lost’ is dedicated to this unforgettable legend. Tell me about Chuck.
A: Clearly many rockers of the 80’s were influenced by Dio some way. He is recognized as the original King of Vocalists in our genre and is respected by anybody in the business as well as millions of fans across the planet. When I met him some years back I was amazed at his focus on the business and not getting caught up in the small things. That is what I learned from him. We are in the process of sending Wendy (Dio) a copy of Legend Lost as a very special tribute to her husband and what he has meant to us over the years.
Q: “Mindslave” surprises me on many fields such as the use of violins on a few songs… unexpected to me but it works contagious. Were you not sure about the reactions from press/media?
A: We never write with the press or media in mind. Anybody that does is a fuckhead. You can’t respect someone who shapes their art around whether someone may or may not like it. Then it’s not art….it just some shit product you did to please someone. Mindslave is a Banshee album---not an album made by a label’s producer called Banshee with their idea of what we should sound like or write about. We controlled the sound and arrangement. We set out to do what we wanted…..and what we thought Banshee fans wanted---which was make the best Banshee album yet.
The violin parts you speak of were originally intended to be done on keys but I couldn’t get them to sound realistic enough so our Engineer suggested bringing in Kaitlyn to do the parts live. She is the violinist from Mannheim Steamroller here in Omaha. She walked in, liked the material and nailed everything in very few takes. Violin by itself is beautiful but in metal it sounds thin when trying to compete with fat guitars and bass etc. so we quad-tracked everything to really fill it out and it sounded great. No EQ or effects…..just pure violin.
Q: How do you deal with both positive and negative feedback?
A: We haven’t really seen any negative feedback regarding this album. I’m sure it’s out there somewhere but we ignore it.
Q: Did you already read MTI’s review (written by co-editor Rico aka Officer Nice) for Banshee’s “Mindslave” album?
A: Yes. It is very nice. On behalf of Banshee, everyone thanks you for the kind words and great support. We appreciate what you are doing for the world of Metal for both European and US bands.
Q: What about the distribution of “Mindslave” outside the US?
A: The best and fastest way is to get the CD from CDbaby.com or our website bansheerocks.com. They all ship world wide. Or you can get digital downloads from all the outlets: iTunes, Amazon, Tunecore etc. Hellion Records and Underground Power are our two German outlets.
Q: I’m fully agree with every word Rico penned down and want to underline my respect for this type of music once again. One of my favourite US Classic Metal acts now featuring one of my all time favourite singers named George Call, believe man, I’m speechless! What about the worldwide response to this masterpiece so far?
A: Thank you. Banshee is being well received everywhere they play, downloads and album sales are good. Everybody loves George Call and he gives Banshee 100% and we love him too!! He is a great ambassador for the band. Everybody in Europe loves him!!
Q: What has a label like Snow Blind Production in promotion - are you guys on the hunt to catch a major label contract?
A: With Snowblind we are very much in control of our destiny. We are also pretty well capitalized…..but is it ever enough? We control every aspect of writing, producing, artwork and post production. If a major approached us we would definitely listen and explore what they bring to the table and go from there. We are open to discussing anything that furthers our mission.
Q: To me, Banshee is a typical band that belongs on the bill of a few majestic European Metal festivals like Keep It True or Headbangers Open Air – any plans to play a few gigs over here in the near future?
A: Hopefully....We have people looking into it. We are looking at Germany, France, Belgium, Spain and Greece right now. We sell more albums in Germany than anywhere. The Germans love us!
Q: What do you want to realize with Banshee the coming years, what are the plans Chuck?
A: Right now the logistics are being worked out for the second leg of the US tour which will probably be the Western half of the country. We have been invited to do Puerto Rico and people are asking about Canada and South America. Japan is a distant possibility also. Meanwhile there is the next album to consider and how we are going to fit everything together time wise. When we are in work mode, there is just not enough hours in the day to do it all.
Q: “Mindslave” gets a place in my personal top 20 album list for 2012, that’s for sure! Thank you very much for the good collaboration and delivery of high class US Metal – maybe some final words before we break this connection? US Metal still reigns supreme!
A: Thanks a bunch!! If all works out, perhaps we will see you at some festivals in Europe next summer. Buy the album, buy the merch!!! It’s what keeps us going!!